My Stakeholder's Hidden Agenda

One of the most common phenomenon* in business intelligence is the mismatched ends: you've gathered requirements, think you've gone through them ad nauseum, but weeks later the dashboard is delivered and the stakeholder says, "This doesn't meet my need."

Like any decent phenomenon** the Mismatched Ends mystify us.  That in itself is puzzling; given that the phenomenon occurs often/regularly/daily, one would think there's plenty of opportunity to study, solve, and avoid it.  And like any decent phenomenon the best place to seek an explanation is often the mind of a child.

The child in this case is my daughter, MD.  When MD was eight she and I started an annual ritual we call the "Dad and Daughter Adventure Trip."  We identify at least one Really Cool Thing to do, vow to stop at every Potentially Cool Thing on the way, and hit the road.  Sometimes the Adventure Trip includes a life lesson or at least a good learning experience.***

When MD was 13 we took our golf clubs with us on the Adventure Trip.  This one was a road trip through west Texas, and Texas in general is blessed with a bazillion golf courses.  MD navigates on road trips and quickly took on the job of finding golf courses to play.  She settled on a few criteria right away: no private clubs, and preferably no 9-hole courses.  She's also very price-conscious, a characteristic I hope she maintains through high school.

Over the week we played at three different courses and each turned out to be a great choice.  There were some consistencies in her selection -- even when near a large metro area she'd pick courses on the outskirts.  The courses never seemed to be very busy, and most of them were very duffer-friendly.  (Long, wide fairways with little water or trees.)  I finally asked how she was making the final selection in each area and found she had one very simple criterion: she was checking the course rules to find out if she could drive the golf cart.

That's it.  After the basic assumptions that we'd agreed upon she added one high priority condition.  She wanted to drive the cart.  I never would have guessed that this was important enough to influence her overall evaluation of courses, but it turned out to be absolutely critical. 

And this agenda item was "hidden" by her for some reason -- one strong possibility is that this was important enough to her that she assumed I already knew about it myself.  It's also possible that she was embarrassed a little by it and decided to own the search herself rather than vocalize the need.  I actually think it's the former -- after all, we both clearly understand that the most important criteria in selecting a hotel is the availability of a pool, so shouldn't Dad just know about the golf cart?

*Notice the clever use of the word "phenomenon."  It almost sounds positive, like, "Whoa!  Look at the fascinating thing we've discovered!"  This approach, rather than negative implication words like "challenge" or "problem" helps keep everyone feeling like we're making progress even though we've encountered setbacks and delays.  It's the same reason the safety briefing card on an airplane shows everyone smiling as they don life jackets and plummet toward the ocean.

**A few of my favorite phenomena in the U.S. include the Marfa Lights, the Devil's Kettle, and the Great Stalcpipe Organ.  You should leave your desk, go visit one of these places, and return to work with a sense that you're now prepared to completely dominant mundane tasks like requirements gathering.

***One of my favorite life lessons was, "Listen to Dad when he says you shouldn't eat three cheese Danishes right before a 12 mile hike at an elevation one mile higher than where you live."